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Elm Street School development still in works

An artist sketch of the future Elm Street School Lofts. (Contributed image_

By Richard Rourk

A restoration project that has seen its share of delays may be finally taking shape in Erwin.

The property located at 600 Elm St. in Erwin, better known as the Elm Street School building, may soon be the home of condominiums.

“We are in the process of combining and developing a hybrid plan highlighting the best elements from both the original 15 unit and nine unit plans,” building owner and developer with Plansouth Inc. Lee Naylor told a crowd on Wednesday, Sept. 9, during a called meeting with Town of Erwin officials.

The 12,000-square-foot old Elm Street School building was built in 1922. The building had served as a school until 1969. From 1970 until 2011, the site was used to house the Unicoi County School System’s offices and served as the Board of Education meeting place.

According to Naylor, the building, which has been vacant for several years, has seen its share of setbacks.

“We planned to get into a certain price point and the initial response was underwhelming,” Naylor said. “The project laid dormant, but sometimes activity creates interest in activity. For a time everything was positive, but when you have a development partner that decides to leave the project, which I understand completely, it causes delays. The lack of the communication is on me, but when there’s nothing to report there’s nothing to report. I appreciate everyone’s patience; it’s all about timing.”

Town of Erwin Building Inspector Brian Tapp expressed concerns that town officials had with the current state of the building.

“Water has gained access to that building and it has me concerned about structural issues,” Tapp said. “Mr. Naylor does have official plans for that building. To use this building the way Mr. Naylor wishes it will have to pass on a local level through the Town of Erwin and at the state level. Right now, the building is unoccupied. I wouldn’t call the building abandoned, but I would say it’s vacated. My concerns are the coding of the building. (Naylor) has repaired some of the windows, but I’m concerned about the roof – there is some draining from the roof and broken out windows. The property could be a threat from possible squatters, bats and pigeons. This could become a health hazard.”

According to Naylor, those concerns are being resolved.

“We have an amazing caretaker that keeps a close eye on the property – not to mention some great neighbors,” Naylor said. “The concerns I feel like there is a strong police presence at that site. I’m fine with replacing the windows and I feel we have acted in good faith on the facade. As far as the roof we have patched it up. There’s a little discoloration on the wood, but it is not spongy. I’ve had two appraisals done and it has been declared structurally sound. As a hardcore preservationist I did not want to see that building be torn down. I felt the need to act. We approached the town about salvaging the building and we wanted to repurpose the building. We took a risk. Both structural engineers were amazed by the shape of the building.”

When asked about an updated structural study by Tapp, Naylor agreed that he would be open to an updated study and then shifted to future plans for the building.

“We put together a concept plan for nine units and we reached out to an engineering firm that pointed me to Rothe Architectures, who had a different plan,” Naylor said. “In the real estate business, the market and the property values are up. People are looking to escape large cities. This place is beautiful, it’s desirable to those escaping the larger cities. Now is the appropriate time to do something. We are in a very good place to see sustained growth in real estate. I’ve got new interest. I’m partnering with Mark Lytle out of Athens; we are on the same page. Regardless of what has happened, patience will pay off. I promise you, we will do something good with that building”

According to Naylor, the project is a combination of the two previous nine unit and 15 unit plans.

“The new plan is back to two bedrooms and two baths,” Naylor said. “We have so much opportunity with the third floor and roof. We will be working on the roof and will be planning something special for the occupants. It is such a great view from up there. The first floors will feature 1,200-1,500 square feet. We will probably go back to gas over electric

Naylor hopes to have things moving in motion in the coming weeks but gives no timeline for completion.

“There is no timeline, but time is of the essence now,” Naylor said. “This is something really exciting for the city and the region. Reasonable expectation would be six months to start, 45-60 days to get all the applications done, and the capital is almost secured. My goal is to start in the spring and finish in the fall, but I cannot commit to that time, there are so many factors. Construction will not be dependent on presale. The price for the units will be in accordance with the real estate market. Four years ago, it was estimated at $230,000-250,000 per unit, but now it would be on the higher end of that would be my guess. There are so many moving parts to this to nail that down right now. The good thing is we are already 80 percent built, but material price will determine this project. This is an Asheville-esqe project in a more affordable setting.”

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